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  • Shelley Dark

#21 looking back at London

This morning at the hotel I sat in my preferred breakfast seat in front of the servery. The two tables there are outside the dining room proper. It's fun watching the chefs and kitchen hands assembling the dishes, pushing completed plates to the front edge of the bench.

A nicely dressed older man wearing a hat and a scarf walked in, then stopped dead.

He muttered to no one in particular in a distinctively English accent, 'Heavens! I've told them and told them and told them you can't read the newspaper in the dining room. I've asked and asked them to set my place here.'

He looked at me.

'Look at this! Today they've set it up!'

I was looking at his table, set with pepper and salt, 4 paper napkins and cutlery.

A lengthy pause.

'They've done what I've asked. After all this time. It's really quite disturbing!'

It made me smile. Obviously part of the accepted ritual is to complain bitterly every Sunday about having to ask. His name is David and he lives in the Midlands. He has a business nearby and comes here every Sunday for breakfast and then goes to see his children.

'A very relaxed breakfast,' he added.

'That's the beauty of getting old, isn't it?' I said, 'You don't have to hurry.'

'CAN'T hurry, that's the point,' his tummy heaved up and down as he laughed.

Companionably we went back to our our own worlds.

'Kippers!' he said loudly and suddenly. I looked up.

'That's what I come for. You can't cook kippers at home. They stink, and the smell stays in the house. Don't know why that doesn't happen at restaurants, but it doesn't.'

I had a taxi to catch to fly home. But it was such a lovely ending to my English holiday. I was wishing I could have stayed for the kippers.

My apologies for the lack of photos in this post, but I didn't have a phone for the last half day.

It was ridiculously confronting to be without a phone for 20 hours. Couldn't take any photos, couldn't use Notes to take notes, couldn't phone anyone, couldn't look at Citymapper to navigate, couldn't check the weather, couldn't send or receive emails or see Instagram, couldn't check in online for the flight home, couldn't google anything for information.

It's a bit like having a limb cut off. But thankfully not painful and not permanent.

After half an hour I started behaving the way I did before mobile phones. I looked at my map, I asked passersby. I couldn't take a photo so I had to sit down and write. How novel!

Because I had to go back to the London CBD to do the phone return, I had the day to plan.

I had this burning desire to do a floral class at McQueen's Flowers - they do huge installations for amazing events, all stunning. They're slightly east of the main part of London so a bit of a hike. I phoned them to ask if it would be worth coming to see them. 'Too be honest not really, we're only doing small posies this morning,' was the answer.

'Why don't you go to Claridges and see our display there?' I did.

It seems to be the fashion at the moment to jam big taped bunches of flowers askew in huge vases. As if you just bought them and had to cut up the veggies before arranging them. I think it's better to do the flowers first and the veggies later.

I'd still like to do a McQueens flower class.

​I popped in to Liberty. How beautiful is that Tudor style building with its beautiful panelling and carved wood?

Astier de Villatte. It makes me sigh. But it's sooooo expensive! I think I will, then I think I won't, then I don't.

Remember the other day when I went to Ottolenghi Nopi way before lunch and had a freshly squeezed juice and watched Gerard making a new cocktail? I thought I'd go back for lunch and maybe try the finished drink. Except I hadn't booked.

'I'm sorry, I only have one seat left, and that's at the bar,' the girl at the front door said. I did a mental high-five and said nonchalantly 'That would be perfect thank you.'

At the bar you can chat to people on either side! The girl on my right was there simply to say hello to a member of staff and left soon after I arrived. 'You're obviously a regular,' she said.

The couple on my left were a delight! They're Canadians from Vancouver, staying at the Charlotte Street Firmdale hotel, in town for the Raindance Film Festival. Terence's film submission is about genital mutilation - it's the story of a young black girl and her family told through the eyes of six characters, all portrayed by one actress, Mimi Ndiweni, a British actress of Zimbabwean descent. Terence hopes it will make a difference. Lisa designs great pared-down furniture

During our chat, the good-looking waiter Patrick, with beautiful glowing skin and a sculptural haircut of varying blunt lengths, both shaved and long, asked what I would like.

'I'd love the cocktail I saw Gerard making the other day,' I said, 'the one with mascarpone.'

'I'd love to make it for you,' said Patrick, 'but it's not on the menu yet and I don't know the ingredients.'

Instead I chose, rather than a white wine, a far more exciting Ginger and Coriander Martini.

Stop the world. This drink was beyond the beyond. Coupé glass. Chilled. Slightly cloudy. Pale lime green liquid with little dark green dots in it. And the taste? Believe me, you have not lived until you've had a ginger and lime cocktail at Nopi.

Or at home! Thanks to Patrick, I can give you the recipe:

Ginger & Coriander Martini

50 ml Ketel One Vodka

25 ml lime juice

12.5 ml sugar syrup (mix of 50/50 water and sugar made into syrup)

10 ml fresh ginger juice

sprig of baby coriander

pinch ground coriander seed

Serve really chilled. Don't say I don't give you good recipes!

I chose two small share plates from the menu, both divine:

1. Crushed beetroot, goat’s cheese, za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix), roasted hazelnuts

2. Pan fried sea bream, smoked cod roe, beans, samphire, pickled grapes

Afterwards I shopped a little for gifts, and happened past Burberry. Not usually my thing.

However I went in. Little did I know that Burberry has a new Chief Creative Officer, Ricardo Tisci. He's an Italian who once worked at Givenchy with the now CEO of Burberry, Marco Gobbetti.

Ricardo has temporarily transformed the flagship store in Regent Street. It was once a grand cinematic theatre and has a huge circular open space foyer where light streams down to the beige-carpeted floor from the high overhead glass dome. A circle of timelessly folded beige fabric drops are an understated background to glossy beige shelving, apparently suspended mid-air to display the latest Burberry goods.

In the midst of this don't-even-whisper elegance?

In the middle of the grand foyer?

An art installation by Graham Hudson.

Three levels of galvanised scaffolding reinforced with pipe struts and three floors of perforated steel decking joined by steel steps.

​The idea is to make models of people and objects. ​

​On the top floor are 80 cameras set up in a 360∘ arc. A model poses in the middle for three seconds while photos are taken. This is converted by software and boffins on the second floor (where I met had a great chat with Graham Hudson the artist, and Chelsea and the rest of his team) into a mould of the body/bodypart/whatever.

The whole setup looks as if a crazy-mad disorganised Salvador Dali house painter from the set of Silence of the Lambs has mistaken the job-site and accidentally set up in Burberry! Buckets, melted plastic moulding, plaster casts of body parts, moulded body parts, polystyrene boxes, rolls of gaffa tape, wiring, fuse boxes, a sheep's skull, fluoro rubber gloves, stage lighting, tool boxes, old-time record players, computers, speakers.

On the ground floor is a huge perspex box. Inside it, a robot in a flurry of polystyrene snow. A likeness of Ricardo's head was being cut out subtractively, my new word. That's different from 3D printing.

This is windblown Graham with an MA in Fine Art Sculpture, his work featured in the Saatchi Gallery among others. He sent this photo about two minutes ago while I was writing about him mid-air in an A380 somewhere over the Middle East. I don't even bat an eyelid these days at the spooky co-incidences.

The photos of the installation are his. Thanks so much Graham.

Who knows what this new creative director will do with the Burberry brand? It will be interesting to see.

Oh I didn't tell you! Jackie Parry (Portsmouth guide remember?) wrote to me yesterday saying that a friend of theirs, an American admiral, was researching something about World War I at the archives on Friday. She asked his seat number. Yes. You guessed it. Seat number 44. I was sitting next to him, but we didn't speak. 😢

I can only assume our energy fields didn't intersect because we're researching different eras. -:)

Speaking of research, over the past two weeks it's been a mixed bag. There are things I've discovered that I've never read anywhere before. Plus information essential to the story. There are things I'll never know and will have to imagine, but also so many things that are useful and incidental. Plus hundreds of pages of photographed information that I really won't be able to evaluate until I transcribe them at home.

It's like a huge unwrapped gift waiting for me!

And as my husband John has said with a smile, at some stage I have to stop swanning around the world and actually write the book!

I need to say hello and thank you to Theresa O'Driscoll and Father Tom and John Joe and Ursula in County Cork, and Bart in Cork city and Jackie and Chris in Portsmouth. And Helen and Julija in London. And Andrina and Jon back at home in Perth. And all those people who made my trip so special. And Graham Hudson, artist extraordinaire. And you, my travelling buddies. I'm thinking of you all.

Until my next post, I wait you,

PS: The French president's wife is changing the colour scheme of the Élysée Palace. From burgundy to seventeen shades of grey.

shelley dark, writer 

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